Monday, August 15, 2011

Professional Critique Sessions & Lugheadedness

I've had the opportunity on two occasions now to attend a live critiquing session. The first time was in what they called Bootcamp in May as part of the LDS Storymaker conference.

My second opportunity was Saturday. It was hosted by Precision Editing Group, LLC. My particular group included a fun assortment of people and was lead by Annette Lyon (see one of her posts here at the Precision blog). Annette is a writer as well as an editor, and she taught one of my favorite classes at Storymaker on Show, Don't Tell that I talked about here.

Since WIP #1 was what I took to the Storymaker session, I needed something else. But I've been focused only on that project for so long I wasn't sure what to do. I've been dying to work again on my SciFi, but it's got kind of a rough first couple of chapters, and I wasn't sure it would be a good fit for this particular group. Plus, I've learned so much over the past year that I'm sure it would take tons of work.

My other option was to submit the first pages of my NaNo project from last October. I hadn't worked on it in many months, and it also had a problem in that it began its life as a middle grade fantasy but is now going to be a young adult fantasy. I decided to go with this one, and I took two days of vacation time last week to work on it.

Oh. My. Heck!
I never realized how hard it was going to be to take that original project and move it into a different genre. I struggled almost from the beginning, clinging to the idea that I could just edit it.


My breakthrough came, when I opened a new Word document and started fresh.


A twelve-year-old main character just does things differently than a sixteen-year-old does, is interested in different things. I knew that. Honest. So why didn't I know that from the start?
  • Do you ever find yourself stuck in one mindset, when the the one you need and will take you where you want to go sits quietly in a corner just waiting for you to take notice? 
  • Do you have any tricks that have helped you to step back and realize you're not suffering from writers block so much as you're simply on the wrong track?


  1. No, I always learn the hard way, no tricks, just trial and lots of error.

  2. None of my characters ever changed in the way teens can change in four years, but I don't write middle or YA. However, my Book of Mormon trilogy began as plays, and adapting them as novels has been challenging. It means mentally getting the characters out of the limited confines of the proscenium arch and into the dimensional world where they aren't restricted by what happens in one setting.

  3. Oh yes, the hardest thing to do is open up that blank Word doc and start over!

    It's hard to give up your words. But when they're not right; they're not right.

    This is exactly the task I have in front of me today. Thanks for reminding me that I need to grit my teeth and do it the hard way!

  4. The "wrong track" thing hits close to home here, Donna.
    I recently had to trash two complete chapters because I had taken a wrong turn with my protagonist.

    I'm not a very good pantster, I guess. I find myself constantly reviewing my plot for cohesiveness and all my characters' actions for motivation. Good or bad.

    I do feel your pain, friend. Just keep pluggin.'

  5. Nope!

    That's one of the MANY reasons I don't write, I just tell stories....... kt

  6. Time seems to be the only way I gain a fresh perspective!

    Congratulations on making a break through with your sci-fi WIP.

  7. I've had "duh!" moments, too. Usually it happens when I don't take enough downtime from my writing to process my story. Time away is just as important as sitting and typing.

  8. totally agree. i tried editing my first ms to change the genre from chick lit to womens fiction - you know, give it more meaning. i ended up starting it over and now its waiting in the wings midst the tbf (to be finished) pile =)

    how do you find all these crit workshops?

  9. I recently transformed the first two chapters of a Fantasy from adult to YA. You know how I like my writing hot...well, it was easier than expected. It really is all about placing ourselves into our character's head. And if the first draft doens't work, then there's always the rewrite.

    Also, happened upon your comment on Alex's blog. I've downloaded Kindle for PC so I can get all the cool books Nook won't supply...just and great on a laptop. :)

  10. Carole Ann - *sigh* The school of hards knocks. At least I'm a bit like Anne Shirley. I (usually) only make a mistake once.

    Pam - It's that mental shift that I didn't anticipate--but I should have. I worked with young women ranging in ages from 12-18, and the difference between the two ends is huge.

    Diane - The words were fine. For a 12-year-old. And therein lies the rub.

    Bryce - doesn't that just kill you? All that hard work? But as I've been editing and learning and editing some more, I've liked the improved end product, so even though I've had to "kill my darlings" I've realized how wise it was to do the hard thing.

    kt - You do write (on your blog), and your stories are delightful!

    Ellie - This is the first time I've had to just open a completely new document once I was so far into a project. Fortunately I'll be able to use some of the original material, but not a great deal.

    E.R - And I had to select this particular project while on a tight deadline. Oh, well. I made them mental leap, and now I'm all set and ready to go with it.

    Tara - I just remembered that I was 12K into my first project when I realized I had the voice all wrong. It had to be first person. I'd NEVER considered writing in first person. I idea embarrassed me. lol

    Laila - That would be a good approach and actually fits with an epiphany I had last week about my romance, that I needed to focus on what's going on in the MC's head during those romantic scenes.

  11. Donna,
    I'm just now getting to that stage where I recognized that letting projects go was okay. I used to think that if I started something that I had to make it work...I had to finish it.

    I just recently decided to shelve a project that was over 12,000 words. I made the decision to not even try to change it or cut it up for another project. I just realized how much energy I wasted towards it...the writer's block that was really myself telling me to move on.

    I hope it doesn't take me so long to let stuff go in the futer.

  12. I'd be very interested to see how your live critiques go. I've done similar stuff, but only as little. Are there time constraints involved or can your critique partners really get into your story?

  13. Writer's block means I'm on the wrong track. If I spend some time rethinking the story, it becomes clear, but not always right away.

    Great links. Thanks for posting them!

  14. Writers block only happens during revisions for me… I find myself lost with the technical side of writing, and that trickles down to ambition and confidence.

    I would be intimidated to do a live critic; I applaud you for your efforts.

  15. Veronica - I wish I'd remembered my 12k project earlier. Maybe I'd have saved myself some grief. =D

    Mark - In each of the two sessions I've been through, we had 4-5 hours for everyone. At Storymaker Bootcamp we each read our 15 pages and then our DI gave feedback followed by the others. In this most recent session, our leader had us read 5 pages, critique and move on to the next person. Once everyone had had a chance we moved on to the next five pages. Everyone's WIP got 10 pages read, though we'd brought enough material for 15 if the time allowed.

    David - It's hard to make our break function the way we want them to, when we want them to, especially where we're not even sure ourselves WHAT we want them to.

    Jeff - That first critique was nerve wracking. It wasn't nearly so hard this time because I know how valuable the input I received is. I've learned to value what all that red in really means.

  16. I find myself needing to switch gears frequently. I'm thinking scheduling might help. Then again maybe you can't easily schedule the creative workings of the mind.

    Tossing It Out

  17. I once had a male villain that I was getting nowhere with. And then I stopped and wondered, "What if he was a she?" After that, everything has been running smoothly! :)

  18. Yikes! Not yet, but I'm ready to startprepping for my second novel & I'm really worried. The first was almost too easy, like it wrote itself. The second one? Yeah, not so much.

  19. I base rewrites on feedback from my CP's. I don't take all their suggestions, but the ones that make sense.

  20. Oh yes! I had to have a big breakthrough where I realized that my idea for my WIP was good, but not in the way I'd initially thought of it. It just wasn't working before, and I spent a considerable amount of time just struggling with it until that moment. Good luck with your changes!

  21. Donna, I love the second to last question you asked: "Do you ever find yourself stuck in one mindset, when the the one you need and will take you where you want to go sits quietly in a corner just waiting for you to take notice?" And the reason I love it is that it's about the outside muse. For me, the writing process is about surrender and intuition. There are corners near my computer where the characters (and the stories within them) lurk. When I let THEM own the process, it's simply a ride, and I love every minute of it.

  22. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog


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